How to Love on Someone Through Treatment

Since my cancer diagnosis and treatment, I’ve had a bunch of people message me that someone they love is about to go through or is currently going through a cancer diagnosis and needs treatment. They all want to know what was the most helpful thing that was done for me and/or my family while we were deep in the trenches. In fact, I have been asked so many times, I decided to write it all down in my notebook and turn it in to a blog post.

The day of my lumpectomy: May 10, 2018

Meals: This is the one we think of first, right? Especially if we live close or are in a community with the person (church, work, neighborhood, etc). Meals can be GREAT and we loved the ones we got, but ask first. And then don’t be discouraged if the person says they don’t need one. Cooking or baking might be your love language, but in our case, we have picky eaters and honestly, visitors stressed me out. We had a schedule people could sign up on if they wanted to provide a meal, and we weren’t afraid to be specific about what our family would actually eat.

Snacks: Even though meals were sort of overwhelming, snacks were not! We got some awesome deliveries of snacks for the kids (both healthy and fun), an edible arrangement (I ate most of that because FRUIT!), and other treats in care packages. These are great because they can be dropped on a porch or sent in the mail and no one feels like they have to entertain you (or put on pants to answer the door), AND they can be consumed gradually.

Also beer and wine on my doorstep were never a sad thing. Because yes, you can still drink when you’re going through chemotherapy (or at least I could. Just not on the day of treatment–not that I wanted to. Ugg.)

The Mother’s Day Basket my school sent after my surgery.

Cards and notes: If you live far away or you aren’t super close with someone, cards and notes are the way to go. I think sometimes people think, “who cares about a card?” But I am here to tell you that every card or note sent to me (snail mail is really the best) or even every email or private message I received, I kept. They are all tucked in a bag under my bed. When things got really shitty, I would re-read them. Or just hold the weight of them because it reminded me that I went through all those minds and hearts enough for them to specifically take time to send it.

This was all of them as of my last chemo treatment. I have added more to this pile!

Gift Cards: If you want to go beyond the card, but meals are not your thing or an option, gift cards are the way to go. People want to feed you and your family when you are out of commission, and that is a GREAT thing! We got TONS of gift cards to local restaurants that have take out or eat in, that way we could choose when and how we wanted our meals. Another reason this was great was because some days that we thought would be fine, were very not fine and the gift cards were there for those unplanned inability to prepare food. Plus everyone could get what they like. And the ones to ice cream or dessert places? Well those were just fun treats!

We were also sent gift cards for non-food stuff–especially for our kids (Target, the local toy store, activities, etc.) These were true gifts for our kids in the middle of a pretty scary, uncertain summer. All three dealt with my chemotherapy differently, and the kindness of both friends and strangers sustained them and gave them things to look forward to outside of seeing mom comatose.

Shipt or some other service: I swear I am not getting compensated for this, and actually we turned down the offer twice before one friend finally said, “too bad, this is what we want to gift you.” Shipt was so helpful for grocery shopping/delivery, that we renewed it for a full year after our gifted subscription ran out.

Cozy, fun things: I would be remiss not to mention the thoughtful gifts people sent. Earbuds for chemo (there are quite a few loud-talking elderly people there), blankets (chemo patients get COLD fast), hats, fuzzy socks, notebooks and pens, books (even though I couldn’t read during chemo, books are always a comfort to me), music to listen to at chemo, Bible verses, coffee mugs, tea, the list goes on! None of them were needs…or even wants I knew I had! But when they showed up, they comforted me.

Stuff that made me feel pretty: When you go through cancer treatment, you do not feel glamorous, let alone pretty. You feel like you are crawling through life. So when cute hats (that had SPF or were warm), lotions, make-up stuff, nail polish (no manicures or pedicures when you are doing chemo, so you have to do them yourself…or have a husband who will do it), even flavored lip balm or lip glosses showed up, it may have seemed frivolous, but to me it gave me back a little of my femininity. It made me feel pretty again.

Take The Kids: This is a tricky one. One of the best things people did for us was arrange fun childcare for our kids while I was at my worst. The tricky part is we had many offers, but only took up a handful of people on this because we wanted our kids to feel comfortable and natural and not like they were being sent away to someone they don’t know. Our kids were not just well-cared for, they had FUN while I felt like garbage. Some of their best memories of the summer were from the times they spent with friends and family while I was at my lowest. This helped me get the rest I needed because I knew my kids were having a ball.

Flowers: Who doesn’t love flowers? Again, this one seems like something everyone would do, but it’s not. I received some beautiful arrangements sent from professional places, but people also brought vases filled from their gardens or the farmer’s market. Since I couldn’t go outside much, it felt good to smell the fresh flowers in the house.

Ask them out: Ask them to do things when they are feeling good. Get fun stuff on their calendar. This was HUGE for me. I needed things to look forward to so I could remember that it wouldn’t always suck. We went to a minor league baseball game with friends (that I thought was going to back out of, but didn’t and I am glad about it), a Pearl Jam concert, and I got my make-up done with a friend. We also went to a cottage with my parents for a long weekend. Doing stuff when I wasn’t “sick” was necessary to my recovery. I took it slow and I made sure to rest, but I did things. This was crucial for my mental health too!

And lastly, just be there. Make sure they know they can tell you that they feel like shit and that you won’t try to talk them out of that (because you can’t. They just have to go through it). Be there when they are feeling good and help them celebrate that too.

Tales from a Converted Valentine’s Day Hater

I am a converted Valentine’s Day Hater.

Most of my post-elementary school life I have despised this made up holiday. In middle school and high school, you could pay to send candy kisses to people. While I get how this is fun for those who get them, we all know that it ends up being a popularity contest. Even now, as a middle school teacher, I wish I could send a dang carnation to every one of my students because I know those who don’t get them probably feel like dirt. Especially if they sent them to people and received none in return. I also know that some know they won’t get any, but secretly hope for a surprise. And are secretly disappointed when that surprise doesn’t happen.

It’s a horrible holiday when you are all adolescencey with all the feelings and greasy hair and bad fashion choices and just want to fit in.

High school didn’t get much better. I had a boyfriend then, but we were dumb high school kids. Maybe he bought me flowers or something. I do remember my junior year Valentine’s Day quite vividly. My boyfriend was a freshman in college in another state and I was back home. Since it was a Thursday or something, I decided to pick up a waitress shift at my job–it’s not like I had a date. On my way to work, I hit a patch of ice. As I was correcting the fish-tail, I hit a dry spot of pavement while my tires were turned sideways. I rolled one and a half times and ended up hanging from my seat belt in my upside-down Nissan in a {thankfully} snow-filled ditch.

When I got home, I was shaken up, feeling like garbage, and afraid of whether or not my dad would go through the roof when he found out I smashed up my car. As my parents were assuring me they were just glad I was unhurt, the delivery van from the local flower shop drove up. My mom gave a little squee, looking at my dad who shook his head. So I answered the door. They were from my boyfriend. He called later and I burst into tears. He thought they were happy tears because of the flowers. Not so much.

That was the start of some pretty rotten Valentine’s Days that included, but were not limited to, a first date ON Valentine’s Day who didn’t make reservations and then fell asleep on my dorm floor, a party that got busted up by the cops that left me standing a little intoxicated in the street without my driver because she was sober and had met a guy, and a boyfriend who bought me a balloon flower because he was going to break up with me a few weeks later.

When Cortney and I started dating, I made him promise me that Valentine’s Day would not be anything. I didn’t need a romantic holiday. I just needed it to not suck. To just be a day.

He has always complied with this. Valentine’s Day is not romantic in our house. We can do that every day.

Then we had kids.

If you know anything about me at all, you know that I do not go over the top with Halloween or Easter or Christmas or Fourth of July or any of those things. I do not do crafty things. I do not decorate for anything except Christmas and that is only because I sort of feel like I have to.

But having kids changed Valentine’s Day.

converted valentine's day hater

I am still not a crafty-crafterson by any stretch, but I inexplicably love to set up a little Valentine’s Day surprise for the kids. I love to talk about what we love about each other and ways to show our love. I do not get this jazzed for any other holiday. And I have always really, really hated Valentine’s Day, but it’s so different when it becomes Love Day.

converted valentine's day hater

I mean. How can you not fall in love with a day that gives your kids one more reason to tell you all the things they love about you and each other? You can’t NOT fall in love with it, that’s what.

Cortney and I still do not do anything special on Valentine’s Day, but there is more hugging and smooching because love is contagious.

I used to rage against Valentine’s Day.

It’s a made up holiday to make MONEY!

It leaves out all the single people!

It’s goofy and ridiculous!

Getting a reservation is impossible and there is too much pressure for romantic perfection!

But now my heart has softened a bit as I have gained three new Valentines.

converted valentine's day hater

And they do things like make me Valentine cards while Cortney lets me sleep in. And they make Valentine cupcakes with me. And they tell me what they love best about all of us.

For us, Valentine’s Day is about being romantic, it’s about celebrating love.

converted valentine's day hater

And we don’t need no stinking romantic dinner or jewelry to help us do that. Cortney and I don’t need to be alone to celebrate the love we all  have for each other.

Cupcakes with pink frosting will do just fine, thank you.

converted valentine's day hater

Or the first taste of apple juice diluted in a pile of water in a pink cup if you can’t have a cupcake. That works too.

Happy LOVE day, friends!

feeding a hungry soul

Today did not start well.

Without throwing blame around, I’ll just say that Sunday mornings are a variation of hard. We have never  had a smooth Sunday morning in the history of ever.

I sat down in church grumpy and annoyed, and just not even wanting to be there. In fact, I came THIS close to shoving my Sunday school story at Cortney and saying, “I am staying home alone. Tell them I am sorry, but I can’t come do this today.” In fact the only reason I got in the car with my family was because my 2nd and 3rd graders were depending on me being there, and I did not want to put our VERY pregnant Pastor of Young Families in a pickle by not showing up.

While Cortney settled Charlie into nursery and I tried to get Eddie and Alice situated in our pew, my soul sister friend (The Preacher’s Wife) plunked a bag of wonderful soup, bread, and treats next to me, hugged me quickly, and whispered, “this small treat is just for you. Do NOT share.” It was HER birthday today, and she was feeding MY tummy and soul.

Then the message, of course, was something I also needed to hear. I wish I had been able to better concentrate, and truthfully I wish it had been longer. I wish there was more. I needed to be fed today. My heart and soul and spirit were very exhausted and hungry.

Once church was over and I had the kids fed and occupied, I realized I didn’t have time to get done what needed to get done for school today before we had to pack up the family and go to a birthday party.

Charlie didn’t get a nap and Alice only napped for 45 minutes.

I laid on the couch with a slight tummy-ache (stress-related, not actual sickness) for about 30-minutes because if I had tried to do the things on my To Do List, I would have just started crying. So I rested.

The birthday party was for my just turned 2-year old nephew, Ezra. We also got to meet our niece (his sister) for the first time. She was so tiny, and once she was placed in my arms (wearing an outfit Alice wore) everything inside of me calmed.

The sadness I had about giving Alice’s rock n play away left. The stress tummy-ache went away. And the pang of regret about having no more babies even left. She was perfect and lovely and…not mine.

Then I looked at my beautiful sister-in-law. She looks so tired. So beautifully new-momish, but so tired. I wanted to take her in my arms and rock her until she fell asleep. I wanted to whisk all of the people out of her house to my house and give her some hours of uninterrupted sleep.

I’m still tired and a little grumpy that I didn’t get all done that I had planned. I still really REALLY need some hours alone at some point. My heart and soul are still pretty tired.

But being with friends and family today did much more for me than I could imagine.

I am pretty damn lucky.

a boring present

Last week Monday I took a personal day so I could take Cortney to the hospital for a scheduled, routine procedure: a colonoscopy.

Now don’t worry I know, I know. He’s way too young for a colonoscopy. He had an issue. He has family history of crappy stuff. Ipso facto he went in for the procedure just to make sure things were fine. And they are.

Things are fine.

I brought him in at 8:45am to get him all set up and ready for the 9:45 procedure. He was sick of not eating and doing the prep and he just wanted it done. We listened to all the nurses and doctors about how it would go and what I could expect him to act like when he came back from the procedure (loopy and out of it).

Eventually they wheeled him out and I settled back to get some work done while I waited.

When he came back, he was indeed loopy. In fact, he wasn’t really totally awake yet at all. It was more unsettling to see than I was prepared for.

In the ten years we’ve been together, Cortney has had one surgery: his appendectomy. His dad had died early that day and by the time I drove Cort to the ER I was in survival mode myself. That day is a blur of forgotten and acutely remembered moments. I didn’t see Cortney until after he had been in recovery and woken up, albeit still acting silly and flirty with the nurses.

This past Monday he was still not actually eyes-open-awake yet when I saw him.

He mumbled some things about football and licked his dry lips a few times. I figured he must super thirsty since he hadn’t had a sip of anything since 6am and it was almost 11am.

His eyes struggled to open and he said in a low voice that he was just so tired.

I held his hand. The one with the IV in it, and something punched me in the chest.

Project 365

I’m not entirely sure how to describe it other than to say it was like when people talk about their life flashing in front of their eyes. Only, it wasn’t my past life that flashed, it was our future.

Simultaneously all the still frames of his dad’s sickness flipped through my consciousness like a Rolodex on speed.

It was like one of those nightmares that is terrifying and extremely vivid while it’s happening, but the second you wake up it starts to go away from your visual memory, but lingers in your feelings memory.

I clutched his heavy-hand and forced myself to be calm and swallow down the anxiety. I slowly rubbed the back of his hand with my thumb and said gentle little things to him.

I refused to let myself close my eyes because I knew the images were there. The ones where we are old, but not old enough. Never old enough. Where I am holding a wrinkled and grayed version of that strong, soft hand. The visions that have me wondering how I will go on without him.

The images being there were startling and disconcerting and very much blended with his dad’s last days in the hospice bed.

I gasped at the realness of it. My eyes burned.

But before I could lose my breath completely, a doctor or nurse came in, and Cort became a bit more lucid, and the moment passed. We moved on with what came next. Cortney requested apple juice and the proclaimed it to be the best damn apple juice he’d ever had.

The moment had passed. Because that is what it was: a moment. All the feelings and visuals and possible heartache happened in less than a minute, and just like that it was gone. We were in the present again.

When the doctor gave us the boring news we were expecting, I could have hugged him. We were expecting there to be nothing, and there was nothing.

But that brief moment in time–that flash of past and future–made me so very grateful for a boring present.

Love Notes

Last week I was sick.  And tired.  And sick and tired of being sick and tired.

And then I got some mail.

strength & hope

It turns out Elizabeth of The Writer Revived nominated me as a blogger who has gone through a load of crap and who she wanted to sent a little strength & hope to.

I blogged about losing our niece, Arabella, last month.  It was awful and hard and we are still finding fresh ways to hurt at each turn in the road.  Getting these cards from Elizabeth and the Say Please Lunchbox Love products didn’t just make me smile, but they reminded me of how far a kind word can go.

Strength & Hope

As I turned over each of these cards in my hands, I remembered my lowest times and what brought the pieces of light that let me know the tunnel had an end.

All of those bright spots had to do with thoughtful words and unasked for deeds.

A simple text, a quick message on facebook, a tweet, a card just to say, “I’m thinking of you” or “You are amazing” were enough to give me an extra push to keep going when all I wanted to do was quit.

I think that is what I like most about these cards.  You can stick them with a little gift, or just insert them anonymously into someone’s life for a pick-me-up.

strength & hope

Each of these cards also has an encouraging quote on the back. I love this almost as much as I love the simple words on the front. I tend to put quotes everywhere. They remind me to hold on.

I am so thankful Elizabeth chose me to pass these along to.  The goal of Lunchbox Love is to start a chain that will touch the lives of those who need it most, so I get to send a set on to someone too to spread the love.

strength & hope

Because getting a card like this when you feel like your world is in a constant state of crazy? Well it’s healing.

Oh, and Lunchbox Love has sets for kids, teens, holidays, and more. They are pretty cool.

I might have to stock up. I like to spread love.

Disclaimer: I was not compensated for this post. Elizabeth sent me the cards because she thought I would love them and find comfort in them. She was right.

being forward

We had had the conversation, but had not acted on anything since it had been left sort of open to interpretation.

We went on as we normally did: he came over a few times a week for pizza and beers and hanging out.  Sometimes we sat outside, sometimes we watched TV, sometimes we sat at my kitchen table.

One night we were sitting next to each other on my couch watching TV. I don’t know what we were watching or even when it happened. That whole summer was a blur. What I know is that at some point his hand found mine.

Fingers intertwined. His thumb softly rubbing my my thumb.

There was none of the awkwardness that comes with holding hands for the first time.

No sweaty palms.

None of that thing when both of you are afraid to move so your hands just sit there, losing blood flow to your finger tips.

If someone had to shift, she/he shifted.

Fingers tightened around the new hand and released.

If someone left to get a drink or go to the bathroom, without a word our hands re-found each other upon return.

No one spoke about this new action in our relationship. No one had to.

And then…the weight of my day and my feelings and all that was going on fell on me and I drifted off to sleep on his shoulder.

He continued to hold my hand.

And gently glide his thumb over mine.

I don’t remember him leaving that night, but I know he did. He had to work early the next day.

When I finally got up in the morning and logged into my email, there was one from him…just like every day.

“I’m sorry if I was too forward last night. Please forgive me.”

All he had done was hold my hand, but he was concerned he had taken advantage of the situation and of me.

That is the moment I fell for him.

Cortney still holds my hand almost daily. If it’s not while we sit on the couch or while we are walking somewhere, it’s as we fall asleep at night.

His thumb still lightly rubbing mine.

on our honeymoon...where he held my hand a LOT.

on our honeymoon…where he held my hand a LOT.

just not you…

Cortney and I met in high school, but we were not high school sweethearts.

We were not even college sweethearts, although he did go to my college for a year before transferring to where his girlfriend went.

At some point in college, during the summer between my sophomore and junior year–the last summer I would come home and not stay in my university’s city–I began dating a mutual friend of ours.  I dated this friend for five years before he broke my heart.

After I graduated from college, but before the horrible breakup, Cortney found himself living with this friend.  This is where this part of the story begins.

*************

He was already about six Bud Light Bottles into his  night when I got to the apartment.  Neither of us remember why in the world he was sitting home drinking alone, but there he was.

I had used my key to get in. I used my witty sense of humor to laugh at his slurring words.

I thought I would be alone watching TV, waiting for my boyfriend to get off his third shift job.  He didn’t usually work Friday nights, but sometimes if they had mandatory over-time, he would need to put in a few hours.  This was one of those nights.

“How many have you had?” I asked Curly.  He was already slurring and giggling at nothing.

“About six.”

And that is when I started laughing at him. I wasn’t drinking, unless you count the 20-ounce Diet Coke I had with me.

“He’s not home,” he told me for no apparent reason.

“Yeah, I know. He had to work. I was just coming to wait for him to get off work.”

“Well, now I’m not drinking alone!”

“But I’m not drinking.”

“But I’m not alone!”

I rolled my eyes, but was happy I wasn’t going to have to stare blankly at a TV waiting for the boyfriend to get back.  One of us decided sitting on the deck would be a grand idea. Probably to get him some fresh air.

I don’t know if you have ever heard the term “zero to drunk,” but that is what I watched happen to my friend, Curly that night.  He went from sober (zero) to D-RUNK in like 20 minutes.

And it was hilarious.

At one point while we were chatting outside, he warned me to get to the side of the deck because he was going to attempt to move a chair.  I was no where near getting hit with the chair. And he may have almost fallen over the deck edge trying to move said chair…for no apparent reason.

This was when I guided him back inside to the safety of the couch.  It was also where our conversation turned from the usual Pearl Jam, concerts, TV, movies, friends talk to deeper stuff.

If you’ve been following our story, you know Cortney gets very…truth-spilling…when he’s had a bit to drink. And if you have been following this blog, you know he isn’t much of a vocally communicative person otherwise. But this evening, was different. I don’t know if it was just the booze, or if it was also the fact that we didn’t get a lot of chances to hang out just the two of us, but he felt like talking, and I let him.

We discussed religion and church and what our parents were like when we were kids.  It was then that I realized that compared to all our other friends, he and I had the most in common as far as our background.  I also realized that he had the same basic beliefs about Christianity, religion, and church as I did.  This was big because at that time, I had found no one  who was that similar to me in beliefs.

Drunk or not, I was enjoying the chat we were having.

And then we started talking about how hard it was for him to find someone in our town to date.  He wasn’t a very forward guy. In fact, he was pretty old-fashioned when it came to courting the ladies.  Unless you were into meeting people at church or going to the biggish city nearby to the bar scene, our smallish city was not exactly known for happening places for singles to meet. He had been living there for three years and only been out on a handful of unsuccessful dates.

He was discouraged. He was heading into his mid-twenties with no one. And that was scary.

And that is when he started telling me how jealous he was of my relationship with my boyfriend. It seemed so perfect, he said. We were a “cool” couple.  Then he started telling me how lucky my boyfriend was to have such an awesome girl like me. I knew he wasn’t trying to be all seductive; he was just working through his thoughts.

“Kates, basically I want a girlfriend who is exactly like YOU….but NOT you. Because, you know…just…NO.”

I laughed.

I knew what he meant…he wasn’t trying to be rude, he was just being truthful. He thought I had great qualities, obviously, we were friends.  But also, we were friends. I was not who he wanted as a partner.

You know…until the very next year when he did  get a girlfriend exactly like me.

Me.

December 2003 - dating

December 2003 – dating

Love Bird

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I was mistaken when I thought Eddie was a cuddly child.

He doesn’t really like to cuddle.  He likes closeness.  He doesn’t like to be alone.

As a baby he liked be rocked (every night), but what he wanted was someone there with him, even just sitting in the rocker while he fell asleep in his bed.  At almost four-years-old he is still this way.  After we read books, he just wants one of us to lay by him.  It’s how he feels safe.

I only realized the difference between needing closeness and being a cuddler because of Charlie.

Charlie has never been needy like Eddie.  I don’t mean needy in a bad way, but Eddie does need us–to lay by him, to sit by him, to go downstairs with him, to color with him–more than Charlie does.  Eddie will play by himself…as long as someone is in the room with him.

Charlie does his own thing.  He will play by himself, sit in a totally different room by himself, and when it’s bedtime all I have to say is “nigh nigh?” and he grabs his glow worm under his arm and trucks down to his nursery.  No fuss.  Hugs and kisses and down he goes.

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I missed out on a lot of the first year of Eddie’s life.  I was emotionally distant and, after I went back to work when he was 3 months old, physically distant.  I was sick and don’t remember much of his first year.  Charlie’s first year made that even more painfully obvious to me because I just couldn’t remember what Eddie was like at that age.

One thing I know is that while I rocked Eddie to sleep almost every single night, he didn’t really spend all that much time in my arms.  He and I cried together often and fell asleep in a pile in the chair out of sheer exhaustion, but not because we just couldn’t stop cuddling.

Charlie and I were inseparable during his first 6 months. I had 3 months of maternity leave followed by 3 months of summer break.  He slept easily and I wasn’t fiending to put him down. I let myself heal and relax.  And because my anxiety was under control, I was Ok to take him out in public with me.

I wore Charlie wherever we went.  If we weren’t at home with him sleeping next to me or on me, we were out and about with him sleeping in the Moby.

And now?  Eddie needs us to be there and Charlie does not.

Except…

Charlie is our Love Bird.

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He gives kisses.  Seriously, they are so sweet I die a little bit.  He leans in and says “mmmmmmmuah!” and lays an open-mouth wet one on your mouth, nose, chin, eye…wherever that sloppy mouth lands.

Eddie never did that.  He is just starting to give us kisses now. I think it’s because Charlie does it.  I’m not kidding.

Charlie gives random hugs.  He will barrel over and just fling his arms around us and then truck off like it ain’t no thang.

Charlie wants to sit on a lap. All the time.  If you are on the floor, your lap is his seat.  He just sort of comes over, turns around, and backs up until his behind is on you.  If you don’t make room for him, he will wiggle around on you until you do.

He will crawl up on the couch or chair and mountain goat his way all over me until he can get himself nuzzled in and then lean back like I’m his recliner.

He will find the one little cranny in Cort’s arms and wiggle his way in and just chill.

He will hold my hand just to hold it.

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And he will press his face to my face or his head to my nose…like he knows I love to take in the sweet smell of lavender in his hair.

He will softly repeat “ma ma ma ma” while he lays his face on my shoulder.

Both of my boys are love bugs, but Charlie is our cuddle monster.

It never ceases to amaze me how they can be so similar and so different at the same time both in big and small ways.

Most people would say that both of my boys are cuddlers, but Cort and I know there is a difference ever so slight. While Eddie drifts to sleep to the slow breathing of a parent next to him, Charlie thrives on morning hugs and kisses.  While Eddie feels safe with a parent in the room, Charlie recharges on lap-sitting and Eskimo kisses.

It’s even hard to describe here.

Both of my boys have their hearts on their sleeves: they both love to give and get love from us and from each other.  Their love languages are just a bit different.

Each perfectly theirs.

Forty

I told my students this week that my parents are celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary this weekend.  Most of them were blown away.  A few commented on how awesome that is and how it’s so rare these days.

It is rare.

And it’s extremely awesome.

Forty Years.

They were married in 1973 just three months before my mom turned 20, and just days before my dad turned 23.  So young!  Such babies!

When I was 20, I remember thinking, “my mom was married by this age and I am just in my sophomore year of college with no serious boyfriend.”

I mean, when I was 20? I was ridiculous.  There was no way I could do what my mom did.

She said, “I do” to my dad at an age where I was getting large M’s marked on my hands at concerts and bars and not getting up for a class that was earlier than 10:50am.

She took on budgeting and keeping house at an age when I was still bringing my laundry home for her to do for me.

She was meal-planning and comparing meat prices at an age when I was deciding between buying Ramen noodles or that pint of Popov Vodka.

You get the point.  I can’t even begin to imagine giving up college, getting hitched, and becoming a housewife at age 20.  It is just not for me at all.

But my mom did it.

I don’t know much about what their first few years married was like.  I imagine it wasn’t that much different than mine and Cort’s first few years.  So excited to buy that first house and move in together.  Overcome with giddy silliness each time they realize that this is it.  The real deal.  No one has to go home at the end of the evening.  Concerned about the tightness of money and how to pay the bills and save.  Dreamy about what the future would be like.

I wonder at times…did they sit and dream like Cort and I do?

In those five years before they had kids, did my parents wonder about their future kids?  Think of names?  Talk about all the places they would love to travel to?  Did they sit outside with a glass of wine and talk about their dream house or dream jobs?

And once I arrived, did they stare at me in wonder like we did with Eddie?  Did they shake their head in amazement that they were actually someone’s parents? Did they worry about my future and if they were messing me up?

Once their family was complete, how did they know?  Did they settle in to raising their kids up?  What did they talk about after we kids were tucked away to bed each night?  Did they share a laugh over something one of us did that we took very seriously?  Did they discuss how they would handle the “sex talk” and puberty and boyfriends/girlfriends and getting a driver’s license and college choices and and and…

Did they ever foresee the not-so-awesome choices that we would make?  Did they cry over us?

I know they prayed over and about us.

What I do know is that in the 35 years that I have been part of that marriage, I have never seen them scream-fight at each other.

I have never heard either say anything hurtful or ugly about the other.

I have never heard them disagree about money.

I have never seen them physically hurt each other.

I have never witnessed them cut the other just to do it and watch the other person hurt.

I have many times heard my dad tell my mom what an excellent cook she is.

I have had my mom tell me to ask my dad because he knows a lot about that specific topic and could be a great help.

I have many time seen my dad hug and kiss my mom…especially after dinner…much to our kid-disgust (ewww!!!!)

I have seen them stand by each other in the face of a screaming teenager.

I have had my mom comfort me when my dad just didn’t understand my teenage girl crazy.  But she never put him down.

I have had my dad comfort me when my mom and I clashed due to my teenage girl crazy.  But he never said she was wrong.

They play up each other’s strengths and they cover each other’s weaknesses.

My mom encourages my dad to be the leader that he can be.

My dad encourages my mom to be the nurturer that she can be.

My mom reels my dad in.

My dad throws out my mom’s line a bit.

My mom is what I think of when I read about the Virgin Mary in the Bible.  I believe she loved being a mother.  She cherished all the things about her son in her heart and she honored her husband.  My mom is the same way.

My dad is what I think of when I read about the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son.  Instead of dwelling on our mistakes, he rejoices in our victories.  He is giving and loving with his family.

My parents are not perfect.

They do argue.  They do disagree.  They make mistakes.

But they get through it.

For 40 years.

And for the rest of their lives.

Happy anniversary, mom and dad.  You are truly the best example of marriage that I have been blessed to witness. Your love, devotion, and faithfulness have influenced me more than you know.  Thank you.

They're cute, right?

They’re cute, right?

Work It

Yesterday, I re-read my About Page with the idea that I would add a few things, but I was caught on the happy little love story I outlined.

I stared at the pictures of me and Cort for a long time, forgetting what it was I was going to add.

You guys seem like the best couple ever.  So fun and so happy.

This is life.  Crap happens.  Our response has always been to cling to each other and laugh as much as we can reminding each other that we will get through it by God’s Grace.

But what if you stop clinging to each other?

What if nothing is going wrong and life is just life and things get mundane and the small things get annoying?

What happens when you just did dishes and the sink is already piled high again? Is it worth “clinging” about?

What if nothing is tragic, so you aren’t holding on tightly?  Or much at all?

What happens then?

What is happening to us?  Something isn’t right. It’s not…clicking or something.

Marriage is work, yo.

I give the side eye to anyone who says they have been married for a billion years and never felt like their marriage was work.

Love is not work.  Not to me.  At least not that I have experienced yet.  I love easily and freely and with all my heart. I have never ever doubted my love for my husband or my sons.

Now “liking”, that is different, but love? That is natural.

Marriage, on the other hand is WORK.  Work that has to be done by BOTH parties or it’s not going to work. I mean, marriage is TWO people, not just one.  It’s a team effort.

In our first couple years of marriage, we experienced Cort’s dad dying, two miscarriages, unemployment, and mental illnesses along with other family deaths.

We hung on to each other fiercely.

We weren’t working on our marriage, we were working on our hearts.  On our hope.  On our positivity in this world.

When you are holding that tightly to someone and you are joined together through grief and mourning and struggle, the marriage just is.  At least it was for us.

If someone was struggling, the other became the rock.  We were a team.  We kept the team going.

Then our team expanded.

Children change things.

Cort and I are both pretty independent people; we both lived alone after school and before getting married.  When it was just the two of us, we were home a lot together, but we could do our own thing.  If I wanted to clean the house and then read a book, I didn’t need to clear anything with his plans to run to Lowes’ and reorganize the downstairs desk area.  We went about our day, went out to dinner, and usually had a conversation that started with, “So, how was your Saturday?  Did you get to do everything you wanted?”

That is not the case anymore.

“Free and easy” isn’t a thing with two kids under four.

If we both have errands and expectations of the day, there are still two kids who need someone with them.  We can’t both just pack up and leave without considering the kids and their schedules.

We have always prided ourselves on our communication.

Except that lately ours sucks.

Life is not tragic right now.  We are not holding each other each night reassuring the other that it will be ok.

Instead, we are falling into bed after hardly talking because the nightly routine of kids’ bedtimes and getting other stuff done has taken away “our” time.

We roll over mumbling a “‘night. Love you.” to each other.

Something isn’t right.

We have gotten frustrated with each other quickly.  We have both been guilty of being mad that the other is not a mind reader.

This past week Cort came to my therapy session with me.

We talked a lot about where the breakdown seems to be happening and when we feel most loved by the other.

That night at home, after the boys were in bed, we sat and chatted about the session and about the work that we needed to do.

Wednesday I came home to roses on my bedside table.

Not because he was sorry–there was nothing to be sorry about–but because he had thought about doing it the week before and had not done it.  Instead of just having the good intention, he did the nice thing.

Coincidentally, I had ordered him a print with a song lyric on it that I had custom made for him just because I knew he would think it was awesome.  It arrived on Wednesday.

Wednesday, while dinner was cooking, we held each other and laughed.

We held on as tightly as possible, so much so that Charlie crawled up and hung on too.

We are not a perfect couple by a long shot.  We have to work hard at this reality that is still new to us–being parents.

We need to learn to put our marriage a bit higher on the priority list.  Maybe even above the dishes.

We have a date next Saturday.  Our first since Charlie was born.

Marriage is work.  And we are going to work it.

Together.



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